The day started pretty much like any other. Woke up with pain. Took a pill. Pain eased to a tolerable level.
That is what my life is like. Since I was in my teens I have suffered from muscular dystrophy, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, mixed connective tissue disease and other auto immune related disorders.
I had a doctor’s appointment that morning to get a refill for my prescription for oxycodone. Every month I make an appointment, every month I see the doctor, and every month I go to the pharmacy. Those are the rules in Florida.
I was a little nervous when I got to the doctor’s office. I had been seeing him for 5 months. I really wanted to ask if I could stop coming in every month, paying $95 just to see him for 5 minutes. You have to understand, because of my conditions, everything is a struggle.
Reluctantly, he agreed to give me the next month’s prescription so I could skip a month.
This is something I have learned to deal with. You get used to the looks people give you and you know they are thinking you are some kind of drug addict. You get used to the hushed whispers the pharmacists share when you hand them the paper. You even get used to the way friends don’t understand you can’t do the things you used to.
But one thing I can’t get used to is the humiliation.
When I left the doctor’s office, I went to the Publix supermarket — just like I had for the previous 5 months – to get my prescription filled. The counter girl asked the pharmacist, Debbie, if they have enough to fill the script.
Right away Debbie flashed me that look of disdain. The “you are such a junkie” look.
After a minute, she comes back and tells me that I am early. She claims I am 20 days early, which is just crazy. I am there every month and she knows me. In fact, she has been rude to me before. But, being on narcotic pain meds, sometimes you just have to put up with that kind of thing.
She then informs me that she cannot fill the prescription. I tell her there must be some mistake on the doctor’s end. Perhaps he wrote it wrong? She says it doesn’t matter, she won’t fill it.
This made me slightly angry. That she treated me like a drug addict trying to abuse the system. But I didn’t want to let it upset me because my disease is triggered by stress, so I try not to let things get to me too much. I said okay, I will go somewhere else, and left.
I drove down the road to a CVS pharmacy. I go in and hand him the script. He looks at me straight in the face and tells me they don’t have any. They don’t have any? A pharmacy doesn’t have oxycodone? Not some grocery store pharmacy, a real pharmacy?
As my fiancée and I are walking out, I jokingly said wouldn’t it be crazy if Debbie had called CVS?
We drove about 10 miles down the road to a Walgreens. I go in, hand them the script, and they say no problem, come back at 2 o’clock. As I am walking out, they call my name over the loud speaker. I walk up to the head pharmacist and ask what’s wrong.
He says to me VERY LOUDLY and in front of about 15 people, “I can’t fill this for you. Debbie from Publix called me and said that you are early.”
I was sooooo angry at that point! I said she is mistaken. Call my doctor and ask him! She is just a pharmacist! My doctor wrote this today! He’s a DOCTOR!!
I was getting upset and embarrassed. All the people standing in line were staring at me. The pharmacist continued to yell at me very loudly, saying he wouldn’t do it because I was trying to fill early.
Then I finally just broke. I cried. Cried for the embarrassment. Cried for the way they were so rude. Cried because they treated me like some kind of addict. Cried because of the pain I have to deal with every day for the rest of my life. Cried because my reputation in this town I had just moved to was completely ruined.
I just couldn’t believe this woman, Debbie, would go that far to mess with me. That she would call all the pharmacies in town for who knows what reason. I knew she didn’t like me, but that was going too far. I went back to my doctor’s office. I told him what happened. And I was crying. Uncontrollable crying.
He looked at the script and realized he had made a mistake. Instead of putting take 1 to 2 pills every 4 hours, he had put take 1 pill every 4 hours. He wrote out a new script.
I went back to Publix. I was furious at this point and still crying. I couldn’t believe Debbie did all that to me. Isn’t it bad enough that when I was only 17, I got this horrible disease that I have put up with for over 10 years, and I will have for the rest of my life? Isn’t it bad enough that I wake up every day just praying that I can have one moment without pain?
This whole thing could have been avoided if she simply treated me like a human being that is sick and needs medicine. Not a drug addict. She could have just called my doctor and he would have straightened it out. She could have worked with me to figure it out. No, instead she decided to call everyone in this small town and let them all know about me.
That day, about a year ago, I eventually got the prescription I needed, after hours and hours of driving around. Unfortunately, because of that whole situation, my health took a major nose dive and the doctor I was seeing kicked me out of his practice.
For the next 2 months I got sicker and sicker because of all the stress. I had to go to specialist after specialist to find someone, anyone, who would help me. I saw doctor after doctor that just refused to help me out with anything other than the name of another doctor.
Finally, about 4 months ago I found a pain specialist in Miami that agreed to help me with my medications. And the pharmacists at Walgreens are being much more understanding these days. I think they realize I live here and I am a part of this community, whether they like it or not.
I wanted to share this because I know that feeling you get, pulling up to Walgreens or CVS. I know the hot flush that creeps across your face as you walk through the store. I know the feeling that your heart is going to burst from your chest when you hand them the script. And then I also know that feeling of being humiliated when the pharmacist makes sure to announce that your PAIN MEDS are EARLY in a loud voice — but then whispers but only by one day so it’s okay.
I do not want sick people to have to face this every single month. It’s literally torture. It just breaks my heart to think other sick people are out there are being mistreated on top of having this condition no one can even understand.
Colleen Sullivan lives in Florida. In April, Colleen’s father wrote a column for National Pain Report on how difficult it was to obtain pain medications for Colleen in Florida. The Sullivans have created a Facebook group called Patients United for DEA Reform.
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The information in this column is not intended to be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Only your doctor can do that! It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s personal experiences and opinions alone. It does not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report or Microcast Media.